Shortly after the Civil War, settlers began westward settlement to new lands and new opportunities, and with it, cowboys began to appear in America’s heartland and what would become known as the wild west. They were largely ranchers and ranch hands, raising cattle, horses and other animals. Cowboys herded the livestock across the plains to feed a growing American population.
It was a wild and sometimes lawless time. In the absence of the local rule of law, cowboys developed their own code to live by — known as a cowboy “code of conduct” or a “code of ethics” — the codes were simple and logical rules of behavior. Fast forward 150 years to the early 21st century, and in recognition of the enduring efforts of the cowboy, a group of individuals sought to find a way to recognize this group of American icons.
Early History of the Day of the Cowboy day
In 2004, a campaign was founded to preserve, protect and promote the cowboy and the Western heritage of the U.S. Early in November of that year, Bethany Braley began working with the editor of American Cowboy magazine to make a “Vote for a Cowboy Day” project happen. At that time, with the guidance of a small group of friends and colleagues in Washington D.C., the project was named the National Day of the Cowboy project and U.S. Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming was enlisted as the sponsor for a resolution in the U.S. Senate. The resolution was crafted, a radio program was produced, and promotional materials were created.
Sponsored in the U.S. Senate in 2005, 2006, and 2007, by the late Senator Thomas, a “national day of the cowboy” was a day set aside to celebrate the contribution of the cowboy and cowgirl to America’s culture and heritage. In 2008, the National Day of the Cowboy resolution was sponsored simultaneously in the U.S. House of Representatives (for the first time) by Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, and in the U.S. Senate by Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming. It passed in the Senate and the House concurrently, naming Saturday, July 26, 2008, as the 4th Annual National Day of the Cowboy. In the words of the former President Bush in a letter of support, “We celebrate the Cowboy as a symbol of the grand history of the American West. The Cowboy’s love of the land and love of the country are examples for all Americans.”
A national effort takes root
With that, a broader campaign was begun to lobby for the passage of the national resolution designating the fourth Saturday of every July a permanent celebration on the national calendar. The campaign focused on recognizing cowboys and cowgirls for their enduring contribution and their courageous, pioneering American spirit.
The National Day of the Cowboy non-profit organization was founded to contribute to the preservation of America’s cowboy culture and pioneer heritage so that the history and culture, which the National Day of the Cowboy bill honors, can be shared and perpetuated for the public good, through education, the arts, literature, celebrations, gatherings, rodeos, and other community activities.
“We celebrate the Cowboy as a symbol of the grand history of the American West. The Cowboy’s love of the land and love of the country are examples for all Americans.”– George W. Bush
On Friday, June 20, 2008, the National Day of the Cowboy resolution also passed in the Arizona State Legislature, making Arizona the first state to officially adopt the day. In 2009, similar temporary resolutions passed in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. It was also proclaimed by a number of governors, mayors and town councils. A standard text was created for use by every state seeking to join the effort.
National Day of the Cowboy Resolution
Over the years from 2005 until the present, the text for the bill expressing support for designating the 4th Saturday in July as ‘‘National Day of the Cowboy’’ has changed very little. It is able to be used by each state wishing to permanently adopt a National day of the Cowboy:
Whereas pioneering men and women known as cowboys, helped establish America’s frontiers;
Whereas the cowboy archetype transcends gender, generations, ethnicity, geographic boundaries, and political affiliations;
Whereas the cowboy embodies honesty, integrity, courage, compassion, and determination;
Whereas the cowboy Vaquero spirit exemplifies patriotism and strength of character;
Whereas the cowboy is an excellent steward of the land and its creatures;
Whereas the core values expressed within the Cowboy Code of Conduct continue to inspire the pursuit of the highest caliber of personal integrity;
Whereas cowboy and ranching traditions have been part of the American landscape and culture since 1523, and today’s cowboys and cowgirls continue to strive to preserve and perpetuate this unique element of America’s heritage;
Whereas annual attendance at rodeos exceeds 30,000,000 fans worldwide;
Whereas membership and participation in the National Day of the Cowboy Organization and other organizations that encompass the livelihood of the cowboy, continues to expand both nationally and internationally;
Whereas the cowboy and his horse are a central figure in literature, art, film, poetry, photography, and music; and
Whereas the cowboy is a true American icon occupying a central place in the public’s imagination.
Since the early days of the campaign, the National Day of the Cowboy has been permanently recognized in the states of Wyoming, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Oregon, Mississippi, Kansas, Virginia, Texas, Idaho, Indiana, Arkansas, North Dakota, and Montana. Every year on this day, the national campaign gives recognition awards to individuals, organizations and projects that contribute to the preservation of both pioneer history, and the promotion of cowboy culture. Additional states are being added each year, and with the recent popularity and success of various western-themed movies and television series such as Longmire, Deadwood, and Yellowstone, there is renewed hope that the celebration will truly become national.
Cowboy Code of Conduct
In addition to the resolution and adoption of a National Day of the Cowboy a code of conduct has been developed and promoted. This code has been read by legislators to the California, New Mexico, Kentucky, Colorado, Idaho, Texas and Arizona Legislatures.
Celebrate the National Day of the Cowboy
If you are interested in supporting the history and spirit of an American icon, the working cowboy, you can celebrate the National Day of the Cowboy by doing the following:
- Go to a rodeo, where cowboy skills are on display
- Explore the western arts
- Buy a cowboy hat and dress like a cowboy
- Read a book or article on cowboy and cowgirl history
- Watch a western-themed movie or TV show
- Consider supporting organizations that further the recognition of cowboys
And, for more information on the scope of this day as a national event, you can visit the website of the National Day of the Cowboy organization at www.nationaldayofthecowboy.com to find events in your area.
Until next time, happy trails! ★